Social Media, Law Enforcement Collide

Article excerpt

Private postings on Facebook and other social media sites have become a new frontier for lawyers hoping to dig up information favorable to their clients in court cases, experts say.

People might think that because a message is limited to a few friends that it's sacrosanct, but as a general rule, anything in the post could end up in court, said Rhonda Wasserman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor.

"The fact that it's invasive of one's privacy does not mean in and of itself that it's not discoverable," she said.

Opposing sides in civil cases have long had access to public posts, but in an increasing number of cases, one or both sides are demanding access to the private conversations litigants have with family and friends.

In a recent case, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon in Pittsburgh upheld a magistrate judge's ruling that denied such a motion by Festival Fun Parks LLC. The owner of Idlewild Park in Ligonier Township wanted either the complete postings or the Facebook login information for a Blairsville woman suing the company for injuries she suffered on the Wild Mouse roller coaster.

The company's attorney couldn't be reached for comment.

Festival Fun Parks claimed in court documents that it believed Darlene Bizich's private Facebook postings would show her injuries have not affected her ability to enjoy life.

Thomas Martin, one of Bizich's attorneys, said they opposed the company's request as a matter of principle.

"It's becoming a routine thing now for defendants to seek the passwords to Facebook to gain access to information that has nothing to do with the case," he said.

He said he doesn't think there's anything in the postings that would damage his client's case, but he also doesn't think the company should be allowed to rummage through private conversations. …